Jake Porter is a senior at Northwest High School in McDermott, Ohio, near another small southern Ohio town, Waverly. Jake has a disorder called Chromosomal Fragile-X, the most common cause of inherited mental retardation. Jake was a member of the Northwest football team this fall. He showed up for practice every day and dressed in full gear.
By the end of October, Jake hadn't played in a game all season, and his coach, Dave Frantz, wanted to see that streak end. So in the days leading up to Northwest's game with Waverly High School, Frantz had a conversation with Waverly coach Derek DeWitt.
They came up with a plan: If the outcome wasn't in doubt, Jake would enter the game and “take a knee” to end the contest. (“Taking a knee” means the ball carrier for the team with possession simply falls to the ground on the final play, and the ball is not advanced down the field.)
On that Friday night, Waverly was leading 42-0, with 5 seconds remaining. There was a timeout, and DeWitt made Jake's coach an offer: The Waverly team would let Jake score a touchdown on the game's final play. Frantz declined at first. “Then we talked about it with the referees, and they said, ‘Hey coach, we understand,’” Frantz said.
At Waverly's 49-yard line, Jake entered the game at running back, and had his play, “84-iso,” called in the huddle. When the ball was hiked, the other 21 players stepped aside.
Jake was surprised as he slowly walked through the gap between the players. He initially turned back to the line of scrimmage, but everyone on the field — including defensive players from Waverly — pointed and guided Jake toward the end zone. “I think he was a little confused at first,” Northwest player Zach Smith said. “But once he figured it out, he took off.”
Jake's run took about 12 seconds and ended with players from both sidelines cheering and running with him to the end zone. Fans in the bleachers wept, tears flowed into the night as the story was retold, and the life of one young man was changed.
James Walker, a newspaper reporter from Huntington, W.Va., told this story in October. The Associated Press picked it up, and ABC Sports told it during a college game in early November. The story of Jake Porter quickly has become one of the most moving in the fabled history of Ohio high school football. Imagine that: A single act of kindness and humility has moved players, coaches, fans, and media across the country to tears.
I retell Jake's story because it is a reminder of the power of service, a reminder that strength is shown not by dominating, but by serving. It's a reminder that the world pauses when it hears stories of love.
Jake scored on a play called “84-iso,” with the “iso” being football shorthand for “isolate.” This is ironic, because Jake wanted to live not in isolation, but in community; the two football coaches chose not to isolate Jake but to call his play and make him a member of the team, a brother in the community. We're all called to do the same, to bring the isolated into community.
The story also reminds us that when we serve, we pay a price. In the case of the Waverly football players, they sacrificed six points and a shutout of the opposing team — a cherished achievement. In our daily lives we often face opportunities to serve others, but there's a cost of time or money, or both. Sometimes, the cost of service is greater than that, much greater. Is the cost of service to our brothers and sisters worth it? The next time you ask yourself that question, remember Jake, and remember what happened one October night, on a football field in a small Ohio town.